2018: Hazel Park Raceway Closes After 69 Years

April 5, 2023 all-day

The long, twilight struggle for thoroughbred racing in Michigan finally may have ended.

Like a lot of owners and breeders and others when they heard Thursday that the 69-year-old Hazel Park Raceway closed, Lisa Campbell said she believes her life in horse racing is slipping away.

Historic trends in gambling and at the track, with the advent of the state lottery and casinos, may finally have sounded the death knell for the sport. Northville Downs is now the only track in the state, and it offers harness racing.

Hazel Park Raceway opened Aug. 17, 1949, with a thoroughbred meet. The first harness racing meet came in the spring of 1953.

The track ran both breeds from 1949 to 1984 before becoming exclusively a harness racing course.

In May 2014 it went back to the thoroughbreds.

The 1960s and 1970s were busy years at the track and many others around the state. But the advent of the Michigan State Lottery and the establishment of casinos did much to reduce the popularity of gambling at the track.

In 1996, the state allowed Hazel Park and other tracks to offer simulcast betting, including on the big, international races like the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup.

In 2004, a new 40,000-square-foot grandstand, including a press box and gaming facility, replaced the old grandstands.

The improvements were, in part, in anticipation of video lottery gaming and other casino devices coming to Hazel Park Raceway. But the legislation required never became law.

Gambling on horses has a long history in Michigan.

After the state legalized pari-mutuel betting in 1933, a track at the Detroit Fairgrounds held meets. It is there the great Seabiscuit turned around his career. The track became noted nationally for the Michigan Mile.

In the 1940s, Northville and Jackson became sites for harness racing tracks and Hazel Park opened.

In 1950, the Detroit Race Course replaced the track at the fairgrounds.

Although horse racing had already begun to decline, tracks opened in Hillsdale, Saginaw, Swartz Creek, Muskegon and Mount Pleasant in the 1970s and 1980s.

All of those tracks are now closed, except Northville.

Source: Gregg Krupa, “Hazel Park horse track closure ‘devastating’“, Detroit News, April 6, 2018; revised April 7, 2018.

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